CyberParent Power Topic of the Week
In a post to TheTimesNews, parenting expert John Rosemond responds to a recent news story about a 13-year old Washington state boy arrested for making threats to blow up his middle school and kill a teacher, and Rosemond criticizes a mother who when interviewed by the news expressed pity for the boy and shared that her own grade school son became very anxious when she told him about the incident.
And while I have great respect for Rosemond’s work, what struck me as curious about this particular article was how “out of touch” the tone and delivery of his conclusions seem to me. The idea that parents simply needed to protect the naiveté of their children, and that the boy who made terrorist threats deserved no pity, that he is essentially a criminal, does not resonate for me as a relevant application of faith and discipline for the modern family.
What is not clear from this article is any appreciation for the power crisis that the internet and cyber-powered communications represents for children, parents, families, communities (especially the cyber-powered communities of children) and nations, and in this regard how the digital generation has been conditioned differently for authority. The authoritative model that Rosemond draws upon in this article assumes that the world is not flat; that titles like parent, teacher, coach and “Mr. President” carry the same gravitas of authority they did when we were growing up.
Children today have access to the world via the network, and while parents do have the authority and duty to govern the home, we cannot govern the fact that it is easy to believe you can simply “google” everything you need to know. So we must become trustworthy advisors as well as disciplinarians. We have to step up the leadership game for parenting; it is not enough to simply have rules and enforce them. We actually have to get interested in and cultivate a relationship with our children based upon the new reality they are experiencing and the nature of the choices they face every day.
New standards for delivery of Grandma and Grandpa’s wisdom
Kids today are conditioned for relational authority. That means you have to be trustworthy in order for the child to really accept your message, be it in the form of house rules or in accepting the punishing consequences as love language. If you are delivering consequences out of anger and fear, the children know it, which makes you unsafe and they tune out; and, alas, the cultural influences of the internet do not go away. When children do not feel safe at home to share what is happening in their world, they are at greater risk of believing the lies of the network (or the crowd). Some examples include:
- You are not enough and so (for example) it is a requirement to lower your standards by sending and receiving sexually explicit photos to gain affection of a romantic interest, or to post phony things about yourself that will attract more “likes”.
- The voice behind the picture loves me more than my parents do.
- Drugs and alcohol offer a break from the pain of not fitting in or feeling understood.
- Gratuitous violence is a demonstration of power; if you are feeling powerless and hopeless then threatening and/or acting on violent thoughts is your only recourse for respect and attention.
And the second big thing to note about the modern child is that they get a lot of fear and fakery in their worlds on and off line, and so they are seeking authenticity. The authenticity of a parent who will always be honest, sincere and consistently enforcing standards and expectations in ways that help the child feel empowered to make good decisions, rather than discounted.
The modern childhood is informing kids differently and we have an obligation to instill discipline (that Rosemond so eloquently describes in his book, Parenting by the Book), we need to also respect what our children are learning and perceiving things as well that need to be reconciled with our wisdom – or we risk becoming irrelevant.
So it is not simply a matter of implementing rules and enforcing consequences – we have to do more than that. We have to check our own hearts and minds for being judgmental, fearful, angry – our motivation must be for the compassion we have for our children as free agents, in our society and in the social network.
So what does this look like? The anatomy of a trustworthy parent in the digital age?
It is the Jesus model:
- Meet your child where he is (heart and mind), no matter how much you disagree, or how much she disappoints you: listen to what they have to say about what is happening in her life
- Speak truth with mercy
- Explain while there will be consequences for poor and unacceptable conduct (which you will enforce), without judging and condemning (under the right circumstances and wrong thinking we are all capable of anything)
- And show the way to higher ground (this is where your message about civility, rules and character building concepts come in)
There is no doubt that the boy who made the threats will experience punishing consequences. What lesson he learns from those consequences can be influenced by the parents and his community. Is there room for him to choose to be free from the lies that inspired murderous thoughts and change his course of thinking and become an asset to the community? Certainly not if he is labeled a criminal and reinforced that is his destiny.
It is true that people don’t care about what you know, until they know you care. And children today are at great risk of believing that their parents cannot begin to understand the pressures they experience thus making the parent nearly obsolete in their minds; how can you care about that which you do not understand? And while the fundamentals of human nature do not change, as kids do need consistency and clear cut rules for shaping character and conduct, what has changed is that the network culture has conditioned children for authentic authority – which is the attention of a parent or guardian who is truly motivated to provide the discipline necessary to be free from the nefarious influences of the crowd (internet and social network).
Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart. Colossians 3:21
For more about bonding with the cyber-powered child and strategies for safe use of texting and social media, go to: A Google World in the Garden of Eden: Five Family-Safe Strategies for Texting and Social Media.
Joanna Jullien is an author, educator and speaker on strengthening the parent-child relationship in a cyber powered world. She a mother of two grown sons, the author of The Authority In Me: The Power of Family Life in the Network Culture, produces The Sacramento Cyber Safety Examiner column on Examiner.com, and is the CyberParenting advisor on The Fish 103.9FM. Her new book, A Google World in the Garden of Eden: Five Family-Safe Strategies for Texting and Social Media is now available for PC and all eReader formats including Kindle, Nook, iPad.
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